|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 5 — a review

TNGSeason5

I’ve gained some ground since April 15, 2018, when I reached the halfway mark on this Boldly Going project. I’ve watched 111 additional episodes of Trek series, including 19 of TOS. This is an average of a little more than one episode per day. Since I’ve just finished watching seasons five of TNG, DS9 and VOY (having finished all four seasons of Enterprise at an earlier date), only 238 episodes remain, including both seasons of the animated series.

After crunching the numbers, I estimate I’ll complete this project on or around March 5, 2019. Since my last estimate was June 22, 2019, I’ve either made some serious headway or made mistakes in my computations, either then or now. It seems reasonable, though. 238 episodes in 213 more days. I think I can, I think I can . . .

I apologize for beginning this review of Season 5 of Star Trek: The Next Generation with my obsession with numbers. I recognize that this is a vital part of what makes me ME, and embracing the Socratic dictum propels me forward in my journey—so like Commander Data’s—to become more fully human.

Since I keep a running spreadsheet of the ratings I give each episode, this review is at least partially number based as well. In Season 5, three episodes of TNG rated 4-stars or better, landing them on my All-Time Best Trek list. Out of the three Next-Gen Era series, this definitely put TNG on top for Season 5.

I’m happy to see TNG taking its rightful place at the top of the podium. In my mind, I was certain that TNG was always better than DS9, Voyager and Enterprise, but that’s not turned out to be my experience during this project. If I’m remembering correctly, out of all the fourth seasons, I ranked DS9 at #1, with Enterprise close behind at #2, and TNG taking the bronze.

TNG earned the gold this time. With episodes such as “Darmok,” “Cause and Effect,” and “Inner Light,” it was pretty much a sure bet. I’ve already reviewed these individual episodes and won’t rehash them here except to say that they are great and you should go watch them now.

This season starts with a bang with the conclusion of the Klingon Civil War, and the revelation that Tasha Yar from Season 4’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise” had a daughter with a Romulan in the past, who is the Romulan officer Sela in this episode. Denise Crosby proves again that it doesn’t matter how many times you’re killed off in the Trek universe; you can still get other roles.

After the early highwater mark with “Darmok,” the season took a brief downturn for me. Ensign Ro, one of my least-favorite TNG characters, is introduced, and I disliked her from the start. Even this time. When this was followed by an unnecessary revisit with the Crystalline Entity (remember the giant snowflake monster?), I was once again let down. The episode with Picard trapped in a turbolift with three children was, oddly, marginally better, but I’m never a big fan of the Trek episodes centered around children.

Wesley Crusher returns and some sort of game takes over the minds of the entire crew, except for Wesley and his girlfriend-for-an-episode Ashley Judd. Not entirely unpleasant as a diversion, but there’s not much substance there either. Wesley’s later appearance in “The First Duty” was better, in my opinion, where Wesley is ethically conflicted after a flight training accident at the Academy (where, incidentally, Robert Duncan McNeil plays someone other than Voyager’s Tom Paris).

Then the graph ticks sharply up again with the two-part “Unification.” The material is instantly elevated by the presence of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock.

I also liked guest star Matt Frewer’s appearance as a presumed historian from the 26th century. But, like the first Wesley episode, it was more fun than impactful.

Aside from the Klingon War stuff, Worf has to deal with parenting issues with Alexander (again, kids in Trek—not my favorite), and he later becomes temporarily paralyzed and suicidal, which wasn’t bad stuff. I would have asked Riker to euthanize me as well.

The season ends with “Time’s Arrow, Part 1,” in which Data’s severed head is uncovered as a 500-year-old artifact on Earth, prompting more Trek time travel, which I usually enjoy.

I’ve brushed over the highlights of the season. You know you have your obligatory Lwaxana Troi episode (this time she’s about to marry someone she hasn’t met), and the Borg are back (Hugh is memorable). In addition to living out several decades in “Inner Light,” Picard also gets to fall for Famke Janssen’s empathic metamorph Kamala. Not a bad gig.

Only one episode scored less than 3-stars from me. I’ve already written about how “The Outcast” aimed high and missed the mark, so I won’t dwell on that here either.

It was this season’s high points that made it stand out for me. Insert something here about the rising tide lifting all boats, or something to that effect. This doesn’t mean that the season was a perfect one. Any self-respecting nerd worth more than his weight in Solyent Green can find something to gripe about.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. Too many children. I actively dislike children in Trek episodes. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate children. I just think they make nearly every episode in which they are featured somehow worse. This is across all of the Trek series, and I’m not excluding Jake Sisko and Nog. I found them annoying as well until they grew up. Naomi Wildman was a perfect example during Season 5 of Voyager, but more on her later. Please, no more imaginary friends, or kids who want to be like Data, or Picard-doesn’t-really-hate-children episodes. I can’t take it.

I think TNG suffers because of its episodic nature as well. This would have been much better as a serialized show, and it shines during its serialized moments. Most of the episodes in this season would just as easily have fit in any season. While this makes it easy to drop in on a rerun without being completely lost (which I guess is the point), it somehow takes away any lasting impact of the things that happen to our favorite characters. Two excellent examples of what I’m talking about are episodes 14 and 15 of this season. “Conundrum” is an episode in which the crew discovers that almost all of their memories have been erased. “Power Play” has Troi, O’Brien and Data being possessed by alien entities. Both are better than average episodes, in my opinion, that serve mostly as filler and could have been placed anywhere, any time.

You could argue that one of my favorite episodes from this season, “Cause and Effect,” fits the same description. To which I say, if you’re going to have a filler episode, make it one of the best Trek episodes ever, and I’ll let it slide.

My other gripe from Season 5 is Ensign Ro Laren. I understand that this Bajoran character was introduced with the intention of moving her over to DS9, a role that eventually became Nana Visitor’s Major Kira Nerys. I am glad Michelle Forbes chose not to go to DS9. Nothing against the actress. In fact, she may have done her job too well. I believe she was directed to make the character unlikeable. It’s one of her defining characteristics. I didn’t like her. Even when they tried to soften her character somewhat, late in the season, in the unfortunately titled “The Next Phase,” in which Ro and LaForge find themselves suddenly out of phase with normal space, I couldn’t get on board the Ro Laren fan bus. I still didn’t like her at the end of the season.

But, I liked this season. A lot.

Two more to go. Then what? The movies, maybe?

We’ll see.

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